Salon Etiquette for Stylists and Clients

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Few people would disagree that hair is an important part of how we look—a great hairstyle goes a long way to making us look and feel good. Getting along with your stylist can do wonders for getting the style and look you want, but that's not always as easy as we'd like it to be. We explain why this stylist-client relationship can be so complicated and share some time-tested tips on etiquette for both the client and the stylist—so everyone ends up happy
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The Hairstylist-Client Relationship

A woman's relationship with her hairstylist can be like her relationship with a significant other: When things are going well, the woman is wildly happy, blissfully in love, and feels beautiful; but when things go wrong, life is a disaster and she doesn't know what to do.

For men, their relationship with a stylist (or barber) usually is less mercurial, but that doesn't mean men are always happy with their haircut or color, or that guys don't feel just as much anxiety about whether their hair looks good or not.

Not surprisingly, like any interaction between two people, a successful relationship is mostly about communication. Regardless of the salon you go to, sometimes you end up with an untalented or incompatible stylist, and you just have to let go.

On the other hand, you should never be the client from hell. No stylist wants to deal with a client who demeans, disrespects, or treats them as an underling. The goal for both sides is a long-lasting, healthy relationship between the client, stylist, and salon that lasts years.

When Stylists and Clients Clash

Although this may not be easy for either the client or the stylist to hear, the truth is both can have objectives or moods that simply clash. Maybe not always, but from time to time tension can develop, and the goal is to defuse it—or to know when you have a mismatch and need to move on to someone else.

Ask your friends or salon employees who don't do hair and you'll often hear that stylists can be a sensitive, tricky group of artists. Oftentimes, ego gets in the way of reason—but there absolutely are stylists out there who are exceedingly talented yet humble.

Stylists often will ask for your feedback, but then seem to ignore or disregard everything you say. However, you also must keep in mind that lots of clients want haircuts that won't work for their hair type, or they have completely unrealistic expectations about what's possible with their hair. A stylist must deal with such situations delicately; some are true pros at this, while others don't know how to tell a client that his or her hair wish is unrealistic or impossible to achieve—which doesn't ensure either party will be satisfied with the result.

Stylists have a difficult job. Most are on their feet all day long, all the while trying to make their clients look great, even if they have wispy, seriously damaged, over-dyed, or difficult-to-manage hair. As clients, we need to understand that hairstylists, even the incredibly talented ones, aren't miracle workers. If we show up with seriously damaged hair, we cannot expect to walk out looking like we're ready to star in a shampoo ad!

Salon Etiquette for the Stylist

  1. If you're overbooked or running late, tell your client as soon as possible or ensure the front desk staff handle it. Do not leave your client sitting in the waiting area wondering what happened. If you're running behind by more than 30 minutes, offer to reschedule the appointment at a discounted rate; your client will appreciate you being respectful of their time.
  2. Your client wants a great haircut and style (or color), so be patient and kind when discussing how to achieve that. Explain everything: Assume your client has never heard of fringe or an inverted cut and doesn't know the difference between highlighting techniques. Be sure to ask your client if they have any questions about what you've recommended, and if they do, clarify it for them.
  3. Be clear about the costs. As the stylist, it is best to assume the client didn't do any research and that the front desk staff didn't do their job when booking the appointment. That means you must be up front about what everything is going to cost. This is especially true for dyeing hair, as each process has a different price. Sticker shock at the end of the service is uncomfortable for everyone.
  4. Honesty is the best policy, up to a point. Be patient and listen, offer a kind smile in a reassuring tone, but if you can't give the client what they want, be sure to say so, explain why, and describe what you can do. Offer a positive alternative rather than a flat-out “no”—and never make the client feel insecure.
  5. Don't expect a tip for mediocre or poor service. It is not a given that a client will leave a gratuity, it's something you as the stylist must earn. Just as you wouldn't tip a restaurant server who was lazy, rude, or inept, a client at the salon shouldn't tip a stylist who does a poor or careless job. The motto is: Expect the cost of the service, but work for the tip.
  6. Put away your cell phone while you're working on the salon floor! Your clients shouldn't have to wait while you check your email, respond to a text message, or “Like” a post on Facebook. When you're on the salon floor, you're on the job, and all of your attention should be focused on your clients, not on your cell phone. We repeat: Put the phone away. Thank you!
  7. Keep conversation pleasant and professional. It's tempting, especially when a client brings up such topics, to talk intimately about religion, money, sex, romance, or even politics. Avoid these topics as much as possible, as well as any gossip about the salon. Whatever you do, be mindful not to put the client in the crossfire of your battle with a co-worker or manager—that is the height of unprofessional behavior and is guaranteed to make your client uncomfortable.

Salon Etiquette for the Client

  1. Don't be late. It's a human trait to dislike waiting, and it's rude to keep people waiting. If you're more than a few minutes late, don't be offended if you get short shrift or if you lose your appointment altogether. Being late happens, but take responsibility when it's your blunder. Just as you would hope the stylist or salon would call you if they are running behind, it's always OK to call the salon to let them know you're going to be late.
  2. Bring pictures of the haircuts and styles you admire. Show your stylist what you have in mind, but be prepared to accept it if the answer is no. Expect your stylist to explain (clearly) why the look you want isn't possible or realistic for your hair, then move on to discuss what is possible, and make sure you both understand and agree on the desired outcome.
  3. Tell the stylist how much time you want to spend styling your hair each day. If 10 minutes tops is what you want, don't ask for a style that takes longer than that.
  4. Know what the services you're requesting cost! As a client, you should ask what the price is for the work you want done when you book the appointment. Do not wait to ask until the end of your service or just “guesstimate” the cost based on what you paid at another salon—you may be in for an unpleasant, awkward surprise!
  5. Speak up, but do so in a kind courteous manner. If you want something, ask for it, but don't be insulting or imperious. As the client, you should expect a gracious level of customer service, but it's also your responsibility to be gracious in return. Believe us, salons know which clients are unreasonably difficult or downright mean—you don't want to be on that list!
  6. If you're happy with the service, tip your stylist. A gratuity of 10–20% is the norm in the salon industry, and is customary for a job well done. Stylists remember clients who tip well, and doing so will earn you points down the road, perhaps when you need to make a last-minute appointment with your stylist to prep for an unexpected interview or other event.
  7. Don't try to become your stylist's BFF (best friend forever). Chances are you see your stylist on a regular basis, and may even discuss some personal details of your life, which might lead you to think that you can become friends outside of the salon environment. Don't do it. Keep it professional, so that if a problem crops up, it won't be awkward to address it with them.
  8. Only use your cell phone if truly necessary. Even if you don't want to chat with your stylist, it's rude to spend your time in the chair making phone calls, texting, or responding to emails that can wait. Sooner or later, this will interfere with the stylist's work and you can't blame them for that.

When Things Go Wrong (What Did You Do to My Hair?)

Even the best stylists have bad days or make the occasional mistake, just like all of us. Here's how the good ones handle it:

  • Stylists don't argue, even if they disagree. They listen to the client, apologize sincerely, and offer to make it right as soon as possible.
  • Stylists realize that the most important thing is for no one to feel traumatized. There is rarely a reason to be shocked or insulted if you're the stylist or to be despondent if you're the client. Almost every hair mistake or disaster can be fixed with minimal collateral damage.
  • Stylists realize that generosity on the part of the salon and understanding on the part of the client keeps a long-term relationship intact.

What if you're the client and you hate how your hair turned out? Do you grin and bear it, only to break down in tears as soon as you reach your car? That's not what we suggest; you need to speak up right then and there, but in as rational a manner as possible (even if you're freaking out inside). Our advice:

  • Tell your stylist (or, if your stylist is already working on a new client, the salon manager or front desk staff) that you're unhappy with how your hair turned out.
  • Keep your composure, and clearly state what you don't like about your hair. Is it too short? Not enough layers? Is the color copper when you wanted honey tones? Be as specific as possible so the person you're speaking to will know how to frame the fix.
  • It is OK to withhold payment for the service until it is done to your satisfaction. Whether fixed on the same day or at a later date that's convenient for both parties, do not pay for a salon service if you're unhappy with the results. If the salon insists on payment, be sure you have written confirmation that the cost to fix the problem will be zero (as in free).
  • In the future, be sure to discuss with your stylist any concerns you have about how your hair turned out the last time. Perhaps the problem was due to the dye being left on too long, so the timing needs to be adjusted, or perhaps you forgot to tell your stylist you had colored your hair a couple weeks back (how color turns out on dyed versus virgin hair can be very different). Get everything out in the open to ensure the same issue doesn't happen again.

To a client, the salon environment (especially a new salon) can seem intimidating. The tips above will help you feel empowered and capable of handling the sometimes fractious, but more often than not rewarding, relationship you can have with a talented hairstylist.

As a stylist, you're in a unique position to make your clients look and feel like a million bucks. They're trusting (and paying) you to make them look good, and they deserve your full attention and the full extent of your talents. Fostering and maintaining a positive experience for every client will reap huge rewards for you, both personally and professionally.

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About the Experts

Paula Begoun is the best-selling author of 20 books on skin care and makeup. She is known worldwide as the Cosmetics Cop and creator of Paula's Choice. Paula's expertise has led to hundreds of appearances on national and international television including:

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The Paula's Choice Research Team is dedicated to helping you find the absolute best products for your skin, using research-based criteria to review beauty products from an honest, balanced perspective. Each member of the team was personally trained by Paula herself.

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